Sunday, July 14, 2013

Spying on the Backyard Birds

 While I wasn't out and about birding in June, I was trying harder than ever to spy on the birds in the backyard. Instead of sitting on the back steps while eating breakfast, I employed the Audubon BirdCam, which I had received as a gift. It is a motion activated camera that is supposed to be designed for monitoring a feeder or nest box. While I have neither of these, that didn't stop me of strapping it to trees to see what birds and other wildlife I could find.

So far it has captured a mourning dove, catbird, chipmunk, rabbits, grackles, a group of starlings, and a family of robins. While the pictures can't compete with my dSLR, the idea of getting regular "reports" on backyard bird life without active participation is quite exciting. I'm still trying to get the hang of it and learn the best settings and I would love
to find a nest to monitor. So hopefully I'll have occasional BirdCam updates too. I'm also hoping that one of the sporadic neighborhood turkeys will cross its path. Speaking of, I had better go put the memory card back in the camera.

P.S. With the cool and pleasant air Friday night, we had lots of windows open and I was lucky enough to hear the hoots of a Great Horned Owl drifting in the open windows!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Fieldnotes from Oregon

Rufous Hummingbird
 June is typically a month where I don't bird much following my May migration birding binge. To make up for my lack birding and posting this past month, I'll share some birds from a recent trip to Portland, Oregon.

While in Portland for a short trip two weeks ago, I was able to get away one morning into the hills around the city. This was my first time birding outside of the Eastern US (I have to remind myself that the Midwest is still eastern when it comes to birds) and so when I started my walk, I was overwhelmed by how different the woods were and by so many new bird songs. I normally can identify most birds by song, or can at least recognize that a song is familiar. That way I know to pay closer attention to a song I'm not familiar with. But in Oregon, every where I turned the bird songs and calls were new! Even the familiar Black-capped Chickadees sing a different song than the typical "phoebe" that I am so accustomed to.

Spotted Towhee
When I first started to get my head wrapped around the bird sounds, I started to pick out familiar birds like American Robin and the beautiful song of a Swainson's Thrush. Then I recognized a Wilson's Warbler's song and was able to spot this bright yellow bird with black cap (fortunately I had just encountered one this spring to help me learn the song). But soon I was able to make out other songs and calls and follow them to an empidonax flycatcher that I was later to ID, with help of a recording and spectrogram, as a Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Then the Spotted Towhees and "Oregon" Juncos started to reveal themselves to me.

Band-tailed Pigeon
Walking along I was able to find a family of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, a Stellar's Jay, a couple of Band-tailed Pigeons, and a distant "quick three beers!" call of an Olive-sided Flycatcher. At this point in time I was lucky enough to run into a local birder who quickly started to ID some more Pacific-slope Flycatcher call notes and two resident hummingbirds. The male Rufous Hummingbirds already headed south, while the usual male Anna's Hummingbird was conspicuously absent (or so I'm told). Fortunately there was a female/juvenile bird of each still around to enjoy. While I would have loved to have seen the flashy males, these two hummingbirds were zipping about chasing each other, chasing off crows, investigating the birders, and generally giving quite a spectacle.

Anna's Hummingbird

Black-headed Grosbeak
We then went hunting for a Black-headed Grosbeak that we could hear singing (his song is very similar to that of our Rose-breasted Grosbeak). Eventually we were able to track him down and were able to watch him singing high in a tree. The drumming and calls of a Red-breasted Sapsucker were sporadically evident, but again perseverance and luck allowed us to find one and watch him as he performed a territorial drumming on a old snag. The Red-breasted Sapsucker's voice is similar to that of our Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and they both also share an irregular drumming (movie below).

Black-throated Gray Warbler
My West Coast birding friends keep telling me how much they miss East Coast warblers, so I didn't have high hopes on finding many warblers, especially as migration was completed.  But the Wilson's warblers were quite vocal and active and fairly ubiquitous, I was able to get a few good views of them. Additionally, I was lucky enough to spot a Black-throated Gray Warbler high up on a branch in the woods. And last but not least, just as I was concluding my briding, I left the path and was back onto the street when a bright Orange-crowned Warber landed in a ornamental tree right in front of me to sing his trilled song.

It was morning that I will not soon forget.